Friday, February 26, 2010

Mean Girls?

In the new issue of Vogue magazine, actress/writer Tina Fey says that she received hate mail after she began parodying Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live." "There are people who hate me because of that," she said, adding, "The weird thing is, when Darrell Hammond or will Ferrell or Dana Carvey did an impersonation of a president, no one assumed it was personal, but because Sarah Palin and I are both women and people think women are meaner to each other, everyone assumed it was personal."

Are women meaner to one another, really? Or does the culture, and media tropes, set them up to seem that way?

Consider the catfight coverage of Olympic skiers Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso, who have been competitors since childhood. A Today show correspondent talked about the "icy conditions" emerging in their relationship after Mancuso complained about a "popularity contest" in news coverage about the U.S. ski team. Other media picked that up.

Then Mancuso was frustrated in her attempt to defend her 2006 gold medal after her downhill run was stopped while Vonn, who had crashed on her run, was struggling to get off the course. Mancuso had to wait for 13 skiers before getting another chance, and she didn't medal in that event. She was understandably upset.

Smelling blood, some journalists pounced, looking for cracks in the cameraderie. We ended up with speculation about lot more personal drama than there really was, according to later statements by Mancuso and other team members.

What is it about women doing on-point political parody, as Fey did, or skiing the races of their lives, as Vonn and Mancuso are, that suggests they are mean?

After figure skating titans Victor Plushenko and Evan Lysacek competed, Plushenko whined that a man who doesn't do a quadruple move (Lysacek doesn't) shouldn't win the gold (he did). But it was a one-day story, and no one suggested Plushenko was a meanie.

Looks to me as if assertive women still make a lot of people uncomfortable.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Gender Bias in Media Persists for Female Candidates

At a panel discussion Feb. 18, 2010 at The Aspen Institute in Washington sponsored by Madeleine K. Albright Women's Voices, Erika Falk of Johns Hopkins University showed us the dispiriting results of her research on press coverage of women presidential candidates, beginning with 1872 with Victoria Woodhull. (Yes, that's right; women began running for president before the vote was available to women in every state.) In spite of social progress, women's advances in the economy, in education, and in non-traditional occupations, "There has been almost no change in the pattern of disproportionate coverage," Falk said.
Falk did not compare male winners with female losers. She compared what she called "equivalent candidates" vying for nomination, and these were the results:
Item 1: Men received more coverage. If you aggregate the eight races Falk looked at, male candidates received twice as much coverage. And the articles about them were longer.
Item 2: Men received more substantive coverage. Twenty-seven percent of paragraphs in articles about men described their policy positions -- only 16% for women.
Item 3: Women's status was diminished when their official or professional titles were dropped on subsequent references, as when Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm would be referred to as "Mrs. Chisholm" in subsequent references. This happened 32% of the time for women, but only 11% for men.
Item 4: Physical descriptions of candidates occurred four times for a female candidate to every one time for a male candidate.
There is obviously no upside to this for voters or for female candidates or for the nation, for that matter. The worst of it, says Falk, is that "media bias may not make women lose, but it may discourage them from running."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

BBC News: Commander Mom

Kudos to the BBC for launching a series on women at war on February 15 View this respectful profile of a Canadian officer commanding a combat unit. The emphasis on her family ties dominates the story -- a given, it seems, in media coverage of mothers rising in military units and ascending in performance. Let's see what the BBC offers in the days ahead -- hopefully, an assessment of military women's effectiveness and contributions as well as the family longings that affect any soldier, male or female.